Weather forecast relief to farmers
REGIONAL climate experts have all forecast that the approaching rainy season, which starts in October, would be normal to wetter than normal in Zimbabwe and most other Sadc countries.
The forecast is doubly welcome for a region in the middle of one of the worst droughts in decades that has wilted crops, decimated livestock, slowed economic growth and driven food prices higher in the past season.
The 20th Southern Africa Regional Climate Outlook Forum (Sarcof) announced in Harare this week that from October 2016 to March 2017, Sadc countries are likely to receive normal to above-normal rainfall bringing relief to this region which relies heavily on rain-fed agriculture.
“The bulk of Southern African Development Community (Sadc) is likely to receive normal to above-normal rainfall for most of the period October to December (OND) 2016 and the January to March (JFM) 2017,” reads part of the statement issued by the Sadc Climate Services Centre.
“However, northern-most Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) northern Angola, southern-most of Tanzania, northern Mozambique, the island states of Seychelles and eastern-most Madagascar are more likely to receive normal to below-normal rainfall most of the season.”
Sadc member states have declared this year’s El-Nino-induced drought a regional disaster, paving the way for donor agencies to assist in mobilising US$2,8 billion required for food aid for millions of people facing hunger.
Drought has left up to 40 million people in need of food assistance across the region, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. Out of this, 23 million require immediate assistance.
Zimbabwe is one of the worst affected countries by the driest year in decades facing southern Africa — including Malawi, Zambia, Lesotho, Swaziland and South Africa.
The UN’s World Food Programme said about 16 million people in Southern Africa are facing hunger due to poor harvests in 2015, caused by El Nino weather conditions.
The impact of the drought that swept across the Sadc region in the past two years has been felt across all sectors including agriculture, food and nutrition security, tourism, energy, health, water and sanitation and education.
A majority of small-scale farmers are struggling to produce enough food to feed their families owing to the drought that ravaged most parts of Zimbabwe.
Dam levels have dropped to their worst levels in decades while pasture and water scarcity has decimated 643 000 livestock with an estimated value of up to US$1,9 billion.
Sadc climate experts met last week in the Zimbabwean capital to hammer out a regional weather forecast for the 2016-2017 cropping season which is likely to shift from the dreaded warmer-than-average weather pattern-El Niño — which caused a devastating drought in the entire sub-region to La Nina characterised by better rainfall and climate conditions.
“The climate scientists took into account oceanic and atmospheric factors that influence our climate over Sadc region. In particular the El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is foreseen to be shifting from the warm, through neutral to cold phase during the bulk of the rainfall season,” regional climate experts said in the statement.
The experts predict the November-DecemberJanuary long-term mean total rainfall to have a maximum of above 500 millimetres over much of Malawi, Zambia, Angola, southern half of DRC, central and northern Mozambique as well as Mauritius, Madagascar and Seychelles.
The remainder of the region receives rainfall less than 400 millimetres gradually decreasing south-westwards to southwest South Africa and Namibia where the mean rainfall is below 100 millimetres.
Earlier this year, Sadc climate experts said the El Nino weather pattern which caused drought in the bloc and other parts of the world in the 2015-16 cropping season was now breaking into a neutral phase that could degenerate into its opposite phenomenon — La Nina creating a possibility of heavy rainfall and flooding in the 2016-2017 cropping season.
Experts say La Nina is the opposite condition of El Nino and while the latter causes high temperatures and dry spells, the former is characterised by heavy rainfall, floods and violent storms.
The shift to the La Niña event has buoyed hopes for some farmers who hope that the better rainfall and climate conditions in the months ahead could significantly boost yields, water availability and pasture for livestock.
“The devastating El Nino episode which disrupted the economies of most Sadc countries in the 20152016 season was a clear wakeup call to all of us that we should not take for granted what you weather experts are saying and forecasting,” Environment, Water and Climate Minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri told the regional climate experts.
“It is more costly to react than to be prepared. If a drought occurs, development is stifled, it stagnates and even retrogresses because finances are diverted to importing food. The net effect is also the same when floods occur.”
Said David Phiri, FAO sub-regional coordinator for Southern Africa: “The evolving climate patterns characterised by cyclic droughts, floods and cyclones have become more frequent in southern Africa.
“The scale and complexities of these hazards requires that we improve on our early warning systems so that these hazards do not result in disasters.”
He urged Sadc countries to take full advantage of information and communication technologies to disseminate climate information.
On the flip side, development experts have warned Sadc countries to brace for floods that may lead to another year of food shortages as the region is expected to receive normal to above normal rains.
They fear that wetter conditions may trigger floods that may damage crops, infrastructure and spark crop and livestock diseases that may seriously erode agricultural production.
Sadc Climate Services Centre coordinator Bradwell Garanganga said it was important to have local and regional forecast apart from the global predictions which had already been made.
“Some of the global reports do not talk to the region,” he said. “It’s important not to overlook local conditions and dynamics. Numerous reports have been made elsewhere on La Nina and El Nino — but we have to look at things in an in-depth way, in detail using local processes and analysis.
“In the 1997-1998 period, global climate experts predicted the biggest El Nino, but this did not bring the much feared drought across our region. We need to remain alive to these dynamics.”
El Niño events are associated with a warming of the central and eastern tropical Pacific. La Niña events are the reverse, with a sustained cooling of these same areas. — Zimpapers Syndication Services.
Villagers attempt to save a cow stuck in mud at the height of a devastating drought caused by the El Nino weather pattern in Matabeleland South, in this file photo
Minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri